After more than three months of congressional hearings and investigations surrounding allegations of Marines sharing nude images of female troops without their consent, the Marine Corps is getting ready to finalize charges against one service member.
That Marine may go before a special court-martial, an intermediate-level trial reserved for those facing charges that carry a sentence of 12 months in confinement or less, according to information provided by the Marine Corps. Officials said they could not release additional identifying information or specifics about the charges, as they are still pending.
It was reported in April that Master Sgt. Theophilus Thomas, 39, assigned to Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, was arrested by local authorities and charged with disclosure of private images.
The Jacksonville Daily News reported that Thomas is accused of posting nude and partially clothed photos of a 24-year-old woman. It’s not clear, however, whether Thomas’ arrest falls under the scope of the broad Marine Corps effort to investigate and eradicate what is often called “revenge porn.”
Marine officials launched a wide-scale effort to investigate allegations of online non-consensual photo-sharing and other misogynistic behavior March 4.
The effort came after a story by reporter Thomas Brennan revealed that a closed Facebook page, Marines United, had been used to share a drive full of compromising images, and that members of the page were even stalking female troops offline.
In an address to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in The Service, or DACOWITS, on Wednesday, Naval Criminal Investigative Service Supervisory Special Agent Russ Alberti said NCIS has reviewed nearly 131,000 images on 171 web sites, determining that some 10,000 explicit images depicted members of the military.
From those images, roughly 100 victims, meaning individuals whose compromising images were posted publicly, have been identified, Alberti said. The NCIS task force launched to do this work has been dubbed Task Force Purple Harbor, he said.
“The name was selected to remind victims of the safe harbor and to indicate the joint, or purple, nature of the team,” he said.
For all this work, success at finding perpetrators has been muted. Agents never got access to the Marines United drive or verified any of the photos within it. And to date, just 65 active-duty Marines have been identified as candidates for punitive action.
Of those, according to figures provided by the Corps, six are still under investigation by NCIS and Marine Corps Criminal Investigative Division, and 59 have been sent to their commanders for action, as their cases lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute.
Of those 59, one has been administratively separated, five have received nonjudicial punishment, and 20 have received adverse administrative action of some kind. Another seven have been evaluated by their commanders and received no administrative action.
Alberti said the cases are made more challenging by the fact that much of the online activity NCIS investigated was anonymous, and images were often duplicated and shared. While NCIS received a surge of reports of illicit Facebook activity involving troops when the investigation was made public, reporting has slowed to a trickle, he said.
But while relatively few troops appear to face career repercussions for disturbing and objectionable online activity, the greater value of the efforts of Marine leadership may come in the attention they’re drawing to an insidious cultural problem.
“I’ve gone personally, as all my leaders have gone, and spoken to literally tens of thousands of Marines and made them understand what their responsibilities are,” Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. “The social media things that we’ve seen were just indicative of a problem within our culture, that we did not properly respect or value the contributions of women in our Corps, and that’s the problem we have to fix.”